What you need to know about FASTING.
The season of Lent is readily approaching, and thus, so is the season of Lenten fasting, or giving up certain things (most commonly foods) for Lent, in preparation of Easter. However, these days, fasting is not reserved for only Advent and Lent (or traditional Jewish festivals and fasts)...its encouraged ALL THE TIME. There's countless types of fasting: intermittent fasting, fruit fasting, vegan fasting, water fasting, and even DRY fasting (which I've shamefully done...and DO NOT recommend under ANY circumstances...more on that later...). So what's the difference? And what's the POINT?! Is fasting worth it? Does it really live up to the healing and health-enhancing claims? And most importantly, is fasting SAFE? Buckle your seatbelts, friends...I'm about to answer all these questions. Let's get started. (Duh-duh-duhhhhh...)
Fasting has been practiced for centuries, but has recently been touted as quite the "cure all." Well, not exactly recently...more like 1970s and 80s, with the rise of the natural hygiene movement. Traditional fasting, or the total abstinence from food, is not nearly as common as the "newer" types, such as time-restricted fasting (intermittent fasting), water fasting, and certain food group fasting (such as fruitarian, vegan, or just going without bread or sugar). All types of fasting have pros and cons, but you need to be aware of both before undergoing any type of fasting regimen, even religious fasting (which I'll elaborate on later).
Intermittent fasting is, without a doubt, the most common type of fasting these days, and the least restrictive. Intermittent or time-restricted fasting is basically just what it sounds like: restricting all food intake to certain hours of the day (usually 8) and fasting for the remaining hours of the day (16, if abiding by the traditional split of 8 eating hours). Intermittent fasting has been said to be beneficial for blood sugar regulation (1), inflammatory conditions (2), cognitive health (3), and weight loss...although the latter is more than likely due to the time-restricted nature of intermittent fasting, leading subjects to end up consuming less overall calories (4).
Intermittent fasting is contraindicated for individuals with adrenal problems (such as adrenal fatigue, Cushing's syndrome or disease, Addison's disease, or chronic fatigue syndrome), thyroid problems (hypo or hyper), pregnant women, individuals who are recovering from disordered eating or eating disorders, and individuals who are underweight. Furthermore, fasting (all types) has actually been shown to increase the formation gallstones, thicken the bile, and promote calcification and hardening of the bodily fluids (6,7,8).
Water fasting, or abstaining from all food for a period of time in favor of consuming only water, has grown in popularity, particularly among raw foodists, yogis, and other individuals who prioritize a lifestyle of cleansing. Water fasting is thought to be the fastest (no pun intended) way to "purify" the body, ridding out harmful toxins and "acids," which are thought to be the root cause of all "dis-ease." Note that there is no scientific research backing any of these claims.
Water fasting is said to truly begin "working" after 3 days, which is normally when the body begins feeling better, thought to indicate that the majority of "toxins" have been released and healing is beginning to happen. However, after 3 days, the body is no longer in "fasting" mode...it is in starvation mode. After 3 days of fasting without food, the glucose stores in the liver and muscles have been depleted, and the muscles and tissues themselves begin being used as fuel for the brain and other organs to continue normal functions (5).
Dry fasting is said to be the "ultimate" healing experience, promoting the greatest amount of "acid release" from the kidneys, while also said expel gallstones, impacted feces, and other toxic material in the body. Again, there is absolutely no scientific research on this to back these audacious claims. In fact, if we really stop and think about it, we find that dry fasting truly defies logic. In essence, by abstaining from water for long periods of time (some recommend up to 5 days), the idea is that you will only be eliminating the old "acids" from your body; however, what is really happening is you are essentially burning out your kidneys. Without water incoming to buffer the toxins that must be excreted through the urine, the pH drops dangerously low, which can lead to literal acid burns in the ureters, kidneys, and bladder. Furthermore, prolonged intentional dehydration can severely impact heart health, digestive health (by causing gastrointestinal fluids to become sticky, which slows peristalsis and can lead to severe constipation), and neurological function.
The Bottom Line
Fasting can be beneficial...but not for everyone. Just like all wellness and nutritional protocols, fasting is very individualized and needs to be thought through by the individual person along with a nutrition or wellness professional who understands the risks. Oftentimes, the risks will not outweigh the benefits.
And one final word regarding religious fasting. I am in NO WAY WHATSOEVER against fasting for religious reasons. Period. HOWEVER, it must be said that the ultimate reason we are fasting, even when fasting for religious tradition, MUST be out of honor for The Lord and the desire to get closer to Him. Countless health and wellness gurus lure believers in to their water fasting retreats with "Jesus fasted" and "Moses fasted," when in reality, Jesus and Moses fasted for one purpose: to spend time focusing on their Heavenly Father, NOT on cleansing themselves or healing their bodies. If the underlying reason for beginning a fast, even if we are saying we are "taking care of our temples," is out of the desire to improve our SELF rather than improve our relationship with God, it is no longer something that brings honor and glory to The Lord. It's less about the action, and more about the motive behind the action. This is very, very, very important to understand in the health, wellness, and nutrition world, and is something I talk about throughout my book...which is very nearly complete! (More info on this to come soon! Stay tuned!) God really doesn't care whether we fast or don't fast, just like He doesn't care what we do or don't eat (check out Matthew 15!)...but He does care if we're living and doing all things for Him, though. Let's make sure everything we're doing Has growing closer to HIM and bringing honor and glory to His name as the motivator, not ourselves, our desires, or our wants.
I hope this answered your questions and queries about fasting. In general, I'm not the biggest fan of fasting EXCEPT in cases of fever (consuming food in cases of high fever only divert precious energy away from healing and towards digesting--energy which the body cannot spare at that time), in which I would at least advocate a bone broth or fresh pressed juice fast to stay hydrated and mineralized. If you have any more questions about fasting, or topic suggestions for future blog posts, don't hesitate to email me.
Until next time,
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